16 September 2011

vicarbrench: (Angst)
I wasn't planning on writing a eulogy, but it turns out that's what I've done:

George N. Parks, 1953-2010

Interestingly enough, I'm sitting exactly where I was sitting a year ago when I saw the news that GNP had died unexpectedly overnight on a band trip.  I'm at the same desk in the IT Help Desk where I was sitting back then.  It was a Thursday, this year's a Friday.  Today I've joined the however many former (and current) bandos in wearing my maroon P&C for the day in his memory.  It's still a sad memory, reliving the flood of emotions that hit me that morning.  I found out at work, fairly early in the day, so it was a little awkward trying not to cry in front of my coworkers.  I did manage to excuse myself a little early to be alone for a bit.

Marching band was a good time; some unique experiences I'd never have gotten anywhere else; some crazy bus trips to places I'd never have gone to otherwise; some awesome friends whom I may never have met in any other setting.  It also did weird stuff to my social development - spending 1hr 40min with the 30+ ladies of the flute section for an average of six days per week for four months for five years.  Not that it was particularly drama-filled, mostly just fun.

George Parks was one of those people who was in the right place at the right time doing the right thing.  Too often, we let the world misdirect us with visions of grandeur at one extreme, or of self-hate at the other.  We think that in order to make a difference we have to aim high, do something spectacular, and be the best at something.  Or we think that we're worthless and insignificant and never try to excell at anything, living the lie that we're nobodys.  But Mr. Parks was living it right - he didn't try to seek out the best job possible, he went where he was needed.  He didn't jump from school to school, trying to get better pay and better students, even when UMass shut down the Old Chapel, with all the band offices and storage in it.  He carried on, furthering his investment in the program and students of the Umass Marching Band, trying to make it the best it could be.  This didn't even include auditioning people for the band and kicking out those who weren't good enough, because part of his job was to make every member the best that they could be.

Of course, he couldn't directly work with everyone in the 300+ member band, and that's where another major success was had: he invested specially in the student administrative staff and field staff, who in turn passed on the same values and qualities to everyone else in the band.  So in once sense, when a new class came in, and they learned those of us on field staff, they were vicariously learning from GNP himself, through us.  And it was his continuous involvement in as much of this as possible that kept it all going so effectively, so that when he died, over 1,300 alumni appeared at Homecoming the following month to honor his memory.  Being a Christian, I can't help but notice a parallel with Jesus - he too invested in a few people, and worked through them to leave a positive impact in the lives of hundreds and eventually thousands of others, too.  And something I observed in the last couple years at Umass was how GNP seemed to exude much the same qualities of love and respect for one another that Jesus taught: don't badmouth other sections of the band, show respect for others, represent the band & the university well while in uniform (especially while on trips off campus), persevere through difficulties like exhaustion and rain and snow, and so on.  I'm really glad I made a point of telling him this before I graduated; he appreciated the compliment.  And being the busy high-energy guy he was, he probably needed encouragement like that from time to time.

It's ironic, in a way, that he died just as the band building he'd spent years working to get for the program was finally approved and started.  Now it's up and in use; the band has a "home" at last.  But what's fitting is that it's been named after him.  He is gone from us in the flesh, but his legacy remains in the spirit of the program and the physicality of the building.  The building will last for a while.  The spirit of love that he taught which held the band together in that special way, though, will have to be continued by the students and new director.  There are a lot of strong traditions in the band which will help continue this legacy, so I've got realistic hope to this end.  I've yet to see the building, though.  If I can, I'll go to Homecoming this year and check it out.  There probably aren't any students left in the band who were there when I was, unless any of the freshmen from my last year are now super-seniors.  It's possible.

So, from the same desk where I sat when I heard the news of your passing, George, and in my khakis, maroon P&C, and UMMB fleece, I'm proud to report that my eyes are still with pride.  Cheers.

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